NewsHillsborough County


Rescue horses helping troubled veterans find healing

Healing horses
Posted at 6:50 PM, Aug 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-03 18:52:50-04

PLANT CITY, Fla. — RVR Horse Rescue in Plant City has about 30-40 horses that have all been rescued, some of them from really tragic situations.

"It's kind of heartbreaking," said Justus Stover who has gone through the Veterans Treatment Court and is volunteering to help the horses.

The U.S. Air Force veteran knows something about heartbreak. Last year, Stover said his mental health was not good, and he ended up getting into some trouble with the law.

"I got into a domestic dispute with the mother of my child. And when the police showed up, I went to evade them and shot myself in the leg. I was actually very suicidal at that point," said Stover.

With his charges, Stover was facing six years in prison.

"It sends chills down my body because it's like, that one mistake, I almost threw my whole life away," said Stover.

But thanks to the Hillsborough County Veterans Treatment Court, instead of jail, Stover and many other vets are getting the help they need.

"I think we owe it to our veterans who have given of themselves to try and help them heal. Incarceration is not the solution. We focus on healing, rehabilitation, and saving lives," said Michael Scionti, the Veterans Treatment Court Judge.

Rescue horses helping veterans

Scionti said each veteran is required to do at least 50 hours of community service. They also work with mentors and the Veterans Administration. to get the help they need.

"It's just another way for the veteran to connect when they seem to have issues connecting when coming back," said David Dunning, executive director of the James A. Haley VA Hospital.

Stover said he feels that connection while putting in community service hours to help the horses.

"It may sound weird but I really like cleaning the stalls. It humbles you," said Stover.

Behind the bars of the stalls, Stover said he's humbly reminded of where he could be.

"It is still shocking to think that, man, you were one opportunity away from spending a quarter of your life in jail," said Stover.

Now, instead of serving time, he’s serving others. The veterans are helping the horses, the horses are helping the veterans, and through the bonds of heartache and resilience, together, they are healing.

"I see a light at the end of the tunnel. Mentally I’m in a better place. It's through the therapy that they’ve given me," said Stover. "I can see that life is going to get better from here."

To learn more about RVR Horse Rescue click here.